About two minutes into the second half of Kennedy Charter's 97-63 win Tuesday morning against Queens Grant, junior college assistant coach Brandon Mullis looked around at the collection of nine coaches and media members on press row at the Bojangles' Coliseum. Then he pointed to Donte' Clark, a junior at Kennedy Charter.
"Guys," said Mullis, who works at Davidson County Community College in Lexington, "that kid is a stud."
And Mullis is right. Clark, a 6-foot-4 1/2 junior, was the best player I saw during the first day of the first Hardwood Classic. He had 17 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals in limited minutes.
He made the right passes. He got steals. He played defense. He hit 3-point jump shots. And he showed off some freakish athleticism. After the game, he told me he can easily get one hand at the top of the white square above the basketball rim, about 12 feet high. Well, during the game he was called for goaltending, for taking two steps and blocking a shot with both hands reaching the top of the white square.
His coach is not surprised by any of it.
"He's our go-to guy," Kennedy Charter coach Edward Addie said. "I think he's the most talented guy on our team. He's got a motor and he plays above the rim. He can knock down the mid-range jumper and go out to 3-point range. We're very blessed to have him on our team."
Clark's been hampered for the past few games with a bruised toe, and a series of single-digit performances have pulled his scoring average down from about 25 to 16, but he looked more like himself Tuesday, hitting deep 3s or driving baseline for two-handed dunks that got the crowd hopping.
If there's a better player in Mecklenburg County, I'm afraid I've not seen him.
And his team isn't bad, either.
Kennedy Charter has six players with college offers, including 6-5 sophomore guard B.J. Gladden, who has 11 Division I offers. Gladden joined the team after an address change forced a move from Sweet 16 No. 1 Olympic.
The rest of the team had come together in the summer, after playing on a few of the same AAU teams, and they asked Addie, a new coach, if they could all come together and play at Kennedy Charter.
Addie runs the Queen City Athletic Association AAU program and has developed a solid reputation among area players. When he got the job at Kennedy Charter, just down the street from Quail Hollow Club in south Charlotte, the talent started flowing in: Jalen White, a point guard from Butler, transferred over, along with frontcourt starters J.J. Douglas and Julius Hamilton from West Meck and Clark from Queens Grant.
All of them, except Douglas, were all-conference players last season. Douglas didn't play at West Meck.
"This team just fell into my lap," Addie said. "I'm very blessed. These guys played AAU together and I started getting calls and they said they wanted to come play in school together. I just looked up in the sky and said, 'Thank God.' I guess I've been living right."
The key to it all is Clark, 17, who wasn't sure if he would be this good as recently as eighth grade.
"I was short," Clark said. "I was shorter than kids on the team and kids in school."
Then his knees started hurting the summer after his eighth-grade year and he grew into his large feet. Now, he's turned into quite a player. Clark said he has offers from Jacksonville, Mercer, Gardner-Webb, High Point and Radford. He also is getting serious interest, he said, from Virginia Tech, where he took an unofficial visit, along with Maryland, Memphis and Charlotte.
"I'm trying to get better," he said. "I know I have to. I have to work on (my ball-handling) because I want to play (point guard) in college. That's my dream."
He's well on his way.